HOLLYWOOD — This Friday is a significant date for the cast and crew of Richard Linklater's "Boyhood." After 12 long years of production on one of the most unique film projects of all time, the film will finally be unleashed on the movie-going public.

For Patricia Arquette, the anxiety mostly came at the end of shooting, when she realized this clearly life-altering experience was coming to a close. In the film, she stars as the mother of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), a headstrong woman already dealing with the effects of a broken home at the beginning of the story who is challenged with finding her way through the ups and downs of life as much as her son. The film could just as easily have been called "Motherhood," and indeed, you come away sensing that Arquette delivers the film's stand-out performance.

Recently I sat down for lunch with Arquette at Hollywood's Musso & Frank Grill. The venue was her suggestion, though it was serendipity, as it is a location I often select for interviews. Perhaps it was subconscious for her, as her grandfather — radio titan Clifford Arquette — has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame just across the street. But there are a few ties to her family on this project, both in the making of it and the promotion of it, as you'll soon find out.

You can read through the back and forth below, but please note that here and there we get into light spoilers about the film. "Boyhood" isn't really a "spoiler" sort of movie, though, so I think you would be fine to read this as a primer for the nearly three-hour experience if you wish. It's a movie about life, and we're all living life, after all.

"Boyhood" opens in limited release Friday, July 11.

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HitFix: So I imagine you've been doing a lot for this movie lately. The release is coming up. Are you nervous?

Patricia Arquette: I was freaking out about it. Look, it's, like, the longest gestation on Earth. But when we finished the last year I was really, really angry that this movie was finishing. Well, I wasn't angry, I was actually just sad that it was finishing and I was sad that we were going to give it to the world and that people would get to have an opinion and I didn't know if people would really understand the subtle beauty of this movie. So it's so nice that some people will relate.

Did Rick [Linklater] show you stuff along the way or did you not see everything until the very end when it premiered at Sundance?

I saw a rough cut of the first five years, which was great. But then I was really excited to see the kids grow up on screen and I just wanted to wait until the end and just see it as much as I could, like, an audience member. You never really can as an actor.

Especially something like this because you've been with it for so long. It's not like you shot a movie for three months and moved on to other things. You've been doing this consistently for 12 years; it's so unique.

And then you also see, when you're watching it, your own life. Like, "That's when I got married." "That's when I got divorced." "That's the year I dropped my son off to school." "That's when Ethan [Hawke] got married." "Oh, that's when Ethan got divorced." "That's when he had his kids." "That's when Rick had his twins." "That's when Ellar's parents split up." And I got to see all the scenes Ethan's character and the kids were in and who he was as a father when she wasn't around. It was the craziest thing to watch this movie from all these different vantage points.

I just followed you on Twitter and you retweeted something recently, from AFI, I think. It was a quote that you had said about how you've basically watched yourself on screen since you were 14.

I wasn't actually 14. I think that might have gotten a little mixed up. Me and Ethan were both saying that. I think his first movie was at 14. I mean, I had been on video with my family. My dad, my grandfather, we had early home film. Like, I have footage of my dad when he was a baby because his dad, he was a pioneer in early radio but he also loved movies and was always getting ahold of gadgets.

Well, it was just interesting to me because either way, the point being, you started out young and you've watched yourself on screen for so long, and this movie is like a microcosm of that in a way. You sit down and you watch yourself over 12 years. Few people can empathize with that idea of a child star watching yourself on screen for decades, basically watching yourself grow up on screen. What does that do for your self-image?

I think I don't know where to separate out what being a woman is and your own image of being a woman in the world anyway, what the world expects us to be, what we're supposed to look like, what society tells us we're supposed to look like. I mean, obviously, that's really expanded by 100,000 when you're in this business. So much of this business subtly and not subtly at all tells you what you're supposed to look like and what you're supposed to contribute to be a woman or to have any value, really. I've always had a little bit of a renegade/question authority element to me. Like, even when I was a teenager when my parents said, "Do you want to get braces and straighten your teeth," I said I didn't. I think I didn't want to look perfect; I was more complicated than that. So I've always sort of wanted to question that status and norm and I did that in "Medium" and I've continued to do that still. You're programmed in your own mind by society and you do see fault with yourself and that you're not supposed to have faults if you're an actor in this business. And part of what was exciting was just not Hollywood-ing that up and being frankly honest about this character and not looking as great as you could all the time.

I don't even know what kind of objectivity you can bring to such a question because obviously you're living it for all those years, but to watch yourself on screen for so long, I wonder if it would lead to more self-criticism than you might normally have, you know, the requisite amount as an actress.

It's so obviously in your face. I mean, the weird thing about being an actor is it's not only your own self-perception, but then you also hear other people's perception of you. So I've had people come up to me and say, "Oh my God, you age so beautifully in this movie. I just thought you looked so beautiful at the end." And then some people will be, like, "How does it feel to watch yourself not be the hot girl anymore," or something. It says a lot more about them and their perception, but that's the great thing about getting older and that's the great thing about being around the block 100 million times by the time this comes out. I worry more for the kids because they're new and what does that mean to them? But yeah, it is strange growing up. I'd always loved to watch a seedling be planted and speed photography and see it start to sprout and grow and then open this bud and flower and then petals falling off and then starting to decay. We are organic creatures, you know, human beings, and we go through this life cycle. And it happens really quickly, or it happens slowly, depending on our perspective. So I wanted to see that. Still, it's strange to watch.

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